Be you — as a corporate executive I always took pride in being an authentic, human leader but once I became the face of my business on the infinite internet, I was a bit reserved at first. However, if clients aren’t attracted to my whole self then they aren’t going to like working with me so I might as well be very transparent about who I am, and they can choose.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Sandler.
Elizabeth spent 25 years as a senior executive in investment banking and private equity before starting her Second Chapter as an Executive Career Strategist. As a Chief Operating Officer, she had responsibility for thousands of people across the globe and oversaw operations, technology, human resources and finance. As the Founder and CEO of Juliette Works, she is on a mission to close the gender leadership gap and see women leaders have the inspiring, fulfilling careers they deserve.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Every time someone asks this, I think of my teenage sons and that their experiences today are forming their future answer to this question!
As a young girl I was painfully shy and quiet; I couldn’t even speak up to order food from a waiter. When I was 13, I was in a horrible bicycle accident that left me in severe pain, in surgery for hours and immobile for months. That experience helped me find my voice. I learned to speak up for what I needed and wanted. Once I was up and walking properly again I learned that second chances are an amazing gift.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was 16 my Uncle said to me, “if you don’t try to be the best, you’ll never be any good.” He was particularly hard on me as a child, so I took this as him being overly demanding. I thought I would never live up to his expectations and to be honest felt he was mean! But it stuck with me and now I realize that it taught me life is a journey. Being successful is not about getting to some arbitrary goal or definition of what “best” is; it’s about taking small steps every day along a path of meaning and purpose.
How would your best friend describe you?
I know this answer! I recently turned 50 and my siblings had dozens of friends around the world submit a video saying what they loved most about me. The most common theme mentioned was that I’m generous which wasn’t a surprise as I strive to be a giver, but evidently my friends also believe that I’m a great storyteller. I work hard to tell engaging stories that help people remember something of value, but I was amazed that so many friends mentioned it.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
Self-awareness is a signature strength. I know what I’m good at and where I can be better, but not in an overly self-critical way, in an aspirational, be the best version of myself way. Awareness is the key part of this strength because it helps maintain your consciousness which impacts how you impact others.
Closely related to self-awareness is my ability to read other people. As an introvert and a student of organizational psychology, I enjoy analyzing and learning through observed behaviors and communication. It’s one of the reasons I was such a successful COO; I learned how to predict what my CEOs would do or say very accurately.
Lastly, I’m strategic in all aspects of my life. Whether it’s in family board games or career strategizing I have an aptitude for thinking several moves ahead and knowing how others will respond. My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ — The Strategist and if you read the description of that type it is exactly me.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I had a successful 25-year executive career as a strategy consultant and Managing Director in leading financial services firms. I managed thousands of people in dozens of countries, traveled the globe and was responsible for billions in revenue, expenses and assets. All while raising two sons across three countries and striving to “have it all.” Just saying all that sounds a bit exhausting.
I had a successful corporate career but more importantly I enjoyed it. I used my strengths to make sure that I always had roles that were engaging and fulfilling. My model for success always included working with people that I liked and respected and that made all the difference.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I made one big mistake in my first chapter, I tried to do everything perfectly in a quest towards the world’s definition of success — senior executive career, a happy family, nice holidays and home — but then I got there, and I was in my early 40’s thinking, “ok, now what?”
I remember the exact moment I realized I was ready for my second chapter to begin. I was with my family on the 17-hour flight from South Africa to New York after 3 weeks traveling around sub-Saharan Africa. I was going through my safari photos and reflecting on the magnitude and beauty of this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I said to my oldest son, “I’ve officially done everything in life I wanted to do.” That’s when I realized I didn’t have the inspiration to keep adding on more to my existing life; I would have to start completely over.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
After my return from Africa, I changed companies after 16 years at the same organization. I thought that might be the right second chapter for me, but 18 months in I realized it was still a corporate life and that success was defined in the same way — money, power, professional accolades — all of which I had no interest in pursuing. So, I walked away without a plan for what to do next.
The next week I went on a 7-day silent retreat. I had never meditated before and I had to practice before I left as I was worried that I would fail miserably at it. To make it more challenging for myself my retreat was in Italy and the talks and teachings were all in Italian, which I barely understand.
On that retreat I had a revelation: the world was full of suffering and problems that people like myself could solve. I became overwhelmed by the thought that there are too many problems in the world, and I am only one person. I felt like I had gone from being a successful executive who had everything I wanted to this helpless, small person who couldn’t make a difference in the world, it was immensely humbling.
On the plane ride home, I decided I didn’t need to help everyone or solve every problem. If I use my expertise and passion to help people, they will be inspired to help others. What I know best is how to lead people at work and 75% of workers report they are disengaged with their jobs, so that is who I chose to focus on serving.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I spent my career as a Number 2, as a COO, and had convinced myself that I was not Number 1 material. An executive coach told me years earlier that I could be a CEO but my greatest roadblock would be finding someone as my COO who I would trust as much as I trust myself. I haven’t found that person yet, but I’m on the look out! Meanwhile, I have allowed myself to settle into being a CEO quite comfortably.
Every promotion throughout my career came with a learning curve and although this pivot requires more skills acquisition than ever before I am also more experienced at getting up the curve quickly. I have learned volumes in the last two years about starting and running your own business.
I’ve learned to embrace Growth Mindset as defined by Carol Dweck and now I don’t see missteps or lost opportunities as failures, I see them as chances to learn and do better the next time.
How are things going with this new initiative?
As with all new ventures some things go better than expected and some things are more challenging. I have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was able to set up the infrastructure for my new business, and by the client response to the content and services I offer.
On the challenging side I’m currently working 7 days a week which is somewhat hypocritical since much of what I teach is about finding balance and achieving career success without sacrificing other aspects of your life. Right now, building this business matters a lot to me so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, plus I don’t work straight from 6am to midnight, I have a lot of downtime walking the dog, reading, or relaxing with the family.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was born my Aunt Trish was only 20. She was that super cool aunt, you know the type? Not only was she a blast, but she always believed in me, encouraged me and showed me unconditional love. On my 46th birthday she gave me a shoe box with every card and letter I had ever sent her — starting from five years old all the way through college. Some of it was embarrassing, but to have that connection to my younger self and to read how much she had meant to me through my childhood was inexplicable. It is the best gift I have ever received and I’m glad she was able to give it to me before she died unexpectedly less than 2 years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
When the COVID shutdown started in March of last year I had over 112 meetings scheduled for the next 5 months and I wasn’t yet in the mindset of moving them all online so I made a list and started canceling them. When I put them all into one spreadsheet I realized that those CEOs, investors, and tech founders were all men. Even though I had fought it my whole career, I was now contributing to the gender leadership gap.
I decided to take some of the leadership development programs I had built for my corporate clients and put them online for women. It started as a simple side-hustle that grew into my primary mission. Now I am focused on growing a new generation of women leaders who find success on their own terms and lead their lives and their companies with consciousness, meaning and purpose.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
I wasn’t one of the “cool kids” in school, but I also wasn’t a nerd. I was just quiet and studious, unmemorable, with a handful of friends. That has stayed with me throughout my adult life. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly memorable or “cool.” I’m not sure I have 100% overcome that limiting belief but I certainly haven’t allowed it to hold me back in anyway. I learned how to allow my sense of humor to shine through, even at work, and I don’t judge myself against some standard others set for behavior, appearance or achievement.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
As soon as I left my corporate career, I suddenly found myself with the time to catchup with people I hadn’t spoken to with no agenda other than to say hello and find out how they were. Reconnecting with so many people helped me build a base of support for when I launched my new venture. People were ready and rooting for me to succeed.
I also tell my clients don’t hire a coach or career strategist who doesn’t have their own coach. I have a mindset coach, am part of a business mastermind and network with dozens of women entrepreneurs who all want to help each other succeed.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I have had a lot of roles in my career but one thing I had never done is sales. It’s 100% outside of my comfort zone. I’m not sure exactly why I shy away from it but I never liked the idea of someone giving me money for sharing with them what seems like such a natural gift to me. But my coach keeps reminding me that I invested countless hours and my own money to get to where I am, it didn’t just come overnight. What I have to offer now is very valuable to other career women and although I give away a lot of content for free this business is my livelihood.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Get help — when I first started out, I was a one-woman show but I soon realized that I needed resources, both in terms of technology and people. Once I made those investments my business grew exponentially, and I paid off the investments in 3 months.
- Be you — as a corporate executive I always took pride in being an authentic, human leader but once I became the face of my business on the infinite internet, I was a bit reserved at first. However, if clients aren’t attracted to my whole self then they aren’t going to like working with me so I might as well be very transparent about who I am, and they can choose.
- #Pferfect — that’s my hashtag to remind myself that perfectionism can really hold back progress. I strive for excellence, but I don’t beat myself up for a typo, dead link or other minor issue that doesn’t impact what I’m delivering to my clients.
- Big why — if someone had told me I would have moments of doubt or confidence blips I wouldn’t have believed them, but when you’re starting a business from scratch, out of your comfort zone, it is inevitable. The antidote to that is to be very clear on your “big why” for what you are doing. When you are purpose driven and focused on something meaningful it is strong enough to get past any crisis of confidence.
- Hold the question — I’m not going to give you a 5th thing because one of the things I’ve learned is this technique called “holding the question” which is that you don’t always need to have the answers. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.” Oh, I guess I did answer you didn’t I?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Humanizing the workplace. The 50+-hour weeks, toxic co-workers, bad bosses, sacrificing mental and physical health and the general disengagement of billions of people is the biggest waste of human life, energy and capability. If all those people weren’t tied up in horrible work situations imagine what they could do in the world. I’m not just advising women on becoming leaders, I’m helping them become the types of leaders the world needs.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I want people to remember me as someone who didn’t just care about my own success, that I demonstrated I cared deeply about other people leading fulfilling lives and contributing to the world. I don’t strive to be famous, revered or idolized, I’m satisfied to quietly impact individual lives in meaningful ways.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thanks for asking, I’m always glad to connect with people. My business is called Juliette Works and readers can find their preferred way to connect with me at julietteworks.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!